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Privacy and Cell Phones

Friday, September 8th, 2006 by | Filed Under: Security Help

Privacy and Cell Phones

Cell phones and PDAs (personal digital assistants) have really become more than simply phones. People rely on them and consequently, they become warehouses of personal data. People use their cellular devices as their personal assistant for storing addresses, contacts, event reminders and even things as business negotiations. The cell phone’s versatility and remarkable capabilities are making people more dependent on them than ever.

With these devices being called to help us organize so many different aspects of our lives storing sensitive information regarding its owner, the question arises, “How secure are these devices”? If you lose your phone, what’s keeping your information safe and if you get a new phone, what are you going to do with the old phone you have been using for the past two years? Do you plan on selling your phone on Ebay or something?

This has become a great concern in the security community as of late and after the results of Trust Digital’s data recovery test using 10 random cell phones from Ebay, the concern has danced its way into the spotlight.

Trust Digital, a security company out of Virginia, acquired 10 sophisticated phones to test some new software they were developing. What the company found was 27,000 pages of information; a stack of papers towering eight feet high comprised of information left on the phones. Some of this information included:

  • One company’s plans to win a multimillion-dollar federal transportation contract.
  • E-mails about another firm’s $50,000 payment for a software license.
  • Bank accounts and passwords.
  • Details of prescriptions and receipts for one worker’s utility payments.
  • Uncovered conversations between two involved in an affair.

“We found just a mountain of personal and corporate data,” said Nick Magliato, Trust Digital’s chief executive.

Cell phones use flash memory, like a thumb drive or memory card for your digital camera and the memory has great characteristics. For example, it’s cheap, portable and durable. The one thing that flash memory isn’t known for is effectively erasing data quickly. For this reason, a lot of cell phones will perform quick erases for convenience to the user, leaving the data very recoverable. In other words, if you delete information from your phone, chances are, that by the right person, all your information could be public.

So, how do you erase your information in a way that you feel comfortable with? Well, basically each phone manufacturer has its own factory reset procedure that is supposed to render the phone’s previous data irrecoverable. These procedures can be located on the company’s Web site or in your owner’s manual. But, even with the phone’s reset, hackers can pull enormous amounts of information from them.

So, even if you don’t think you have any important information on your phone, you may be surprised,. As phones become more sophisticated, the risk of data loss only becomes greater. Until better means of data destruction become available, I would think twice about selling your phone on Ebay or giving it to a family member. Also, if you are one of those tech savvy businessmen, I would suggest never getting rid of your Palm Pilot or Blackberry either. Keep it as a back up or destroy it, because you can never be too sure.

If you would like a copy of how to reset your cell phone, you can look for it here.

Until next week, stay safe out there!

~ Chad Stelnicki

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